Opinion

Creating the perfect working environment discussed by British tech startups

9 min read

11 June 2015

The tech industry is full of all creatures great and small and, regardless of size, companies in the sector are often considered innovative disruptors. So what does it take for a startup to create the right environment?

You’ve no doubt seen the coverage of Google’s office in London that features unique collaborative work spaces fitted with quirky furnishings and décor, not to mention the ‘secret’ roof gardens and allotment space enabling employees to plant herbs and vegetables.

But not every business can afford to invest in the services of top end designers in order to reflect their company culture in the workplace. So how important is the working environment of UK tech companies?

In order to see how working environments impact employee retention, we have spoken to a number of UK based tech startups who have shared their insights with us on how they have cultivated their own company culture in line with the needs of their employees.

First up we have advice from Brynne Herbert, CEO and founder of MOVE Guides. MOVE Guides has developed a single technology platform that brings together global mobility, finance, employees and vendors to enable end-to-end talent mobility management.

“As we say goodbye to the rigid 9-5 workday and email-free weekends, companies should look to leverage the benefits of a flexible work environment. Mobile devices and cloud technology have made it easy for employees to have a successful day at work without even stepping into the office. So, why do we need an employee to be in the office during a set time frame when we expect them to be on a conference call at 10pm?

“Work-life integration has become the new work-life balance. Personally, I believe that engaged employees are those who value their organisation and feel valued by their organisation and what better way to make them feel valued than by trusting them to make their own decisions about balancing their personal and professional life.”

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Next we have guidance from John Peebles, CEO of Administrate. Administrate is a developer of software that assists training companies and training departments to manage and deliver e-learning courses.

“Working environment to us means our company culture, physical environment, processes, tools, and team members. Each of these things is important. For culture, we’ve got a handbook of how we like to work which explains are company values, brand values, design values, and our values hierarchy, and provides an aspirational touchstone for how we engage with each other and the world.

“We strive to have a nice physical environment, but we actually don’t plough a lot of money into our office – pretty colours, coffee and beer are there, but we don’t care about nice surroundings too much. Instead, we put a lot of money into tools – the best Macs, monitors (biggest too), and mechanical keyboards to start, but also really great internal software tools that team members use every day.

“We spend a lot of time investing in our processes too – taking feedback, fine tuning, and making sure we’re building systems that work and promote efficiency and great results for our customers. Lastly, we try to make sure we’re always recruiting top notch team members (and growing existing team members) because smart people love working with other smart people.”

On the next page we hear from leaders at Flubit, Housekeep and LOVESPACE.

Below we have expertise from Bertie Stephens, CEO of Flubit. Flubit enables users to get a better offer for the products they want to buy online.

“Once you recruit, pay the recruitment fees and spend six months training the new staff up, your focus shifts to ensuring that they stay, because losing them will lose you six months of work and money you cannot afford to lose – so creating a company culture, a benefits program and ensuring that the work is interesting to keep the most qualified staff in a city like London with some of the world’s best companies competing for the same talent becomes a priority.

“At Flubit, we encourage the right balance of work and fun – we have weekly group-wide demos, monthly socials, bi-annual team days out, we’ve just introduced ‘Summer hours’ giving our staff a couple of free hours a week to do something they enjoy, as well as a fun-filled office with a games centre, weekly football matches, pool tables, dartboards, etc etc.

“Some of this stuff is the typical cliché startup stuff (yes, we do have fake grass and a ping pong table!), but we find that enforcing a more relaxed atmosphere encourages creativity, team work and passion. The last thing we would want is for work to be a slog for our team, we want their enthusiasm and excitement to show in their output.”

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Next we have insights from Avin Rabheru, founder of Housekeep. Housekeep provides professional home cleaning services that can be booked and paid for online.

“As a startup, you want a team who come to work because they love what they do, rather than just for the salary. This requires a great work culture, where your people are excited about coming in to work every morning.

“It’s not just about team nights out and socials, but also about setting clear targets that people can own and allowing them to gain experience and exposure that they couldn’t in larger companies.

“We’re also very open with our whole team about how the overall business is progressing, and it’s clearly rewarding for the whole team to see how their hard work is contributing to our rate of growth.”

Finally we have intelligence from Heather Garrick, marketing director at LOVESPACE. LOVESPACE provides customers with removal, storage and delivery solutions that can be processed online.

“Office space can be tight in start-ups, particularly rapidly growing ones, and this has the potential increase the stress for employees as their work space becomes increasingly infringed upon.

“We’ve found that employee retention is less about providing ping pong tables, and more about providing a comfortable and de-cluttered working environment that allows our staff to be both happy and productive.”

Summary

It’s clear from the insights from these tech startups that a great company culture isn’t necessarily based around the design of your office, it’s centres around how you cater to your employee’s needs.

Kevin Buller is the chief executive at Lucas Blake. Lucas Blake specialises in the recruitment of sales professionals within the IT and telecommunications sectors throughout the UK and Europe.